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Terps hope to be a real pain to the team from Champaign

Minus their leading scorer, the Univeristy of Illinois visits College Park in a women's basketball match-up that sees Maryland looking to extend their winning streak to nine and move to a perfect 6-0 in Big Ten play.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Illinois Fighting Illini (11-6, 2-3) @ Maryland Terrapins (14-2, 5-0)

WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game

WHERE: Xfinity Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

WHEN: Sunday, January 18, 2015 2:00 p.m. ET

WATCH: In Person


The Fighting Illini - or are they?

The University of Illinois is the sole team in the Big Ten whose nickname, and more specifically their former mascot, is a source of controversy and contention. Of course, we are referring to the Fighting Illini and, in the latter case, Chief Illiniwek. Before we embark on this journey, let me set forth that the principal source of the history I will present is the archives of the University of Illinois Library. Let's begin.

According to the archive,

"The earliest recorded usage of the term "Illini" appears to have been in January 1874, when the weekly student newspaper changed its name from The Student to The Illini. An editorial in the first issue of the renamed journal (Volume 3, Issue 1) implies that the term was coined and had not formally existed prior to 1874."

A Wikipedia article appears to provide some support for this: "Illinois is from a French rendering of ilinwe (pl. iliniwek). Ilinwe is in turn an Odawa language rendering of irenweewa. (The Odawa or Ottawa were a neighboring tribe, whom the French met first.) Irenweewa means he-who-speaks-the-common-way in the Illinois Confederation language but the confederation word for themselves was inoca (inoka). Unlike the plural form iliniwek, the term illini does not appear to have an historic linguistic connection."

Although the University played it's first football game in 1890, the first recorded reference to the school's athletic teams as Illini appears as a single mention in a 1907 review of the football season. Then,

"The term gained greater frequency in the next decade, especially during the 1914, 1915, and 1916 football seasons. Daily Illini articles and football programs prior to these dates do not extensively cite the term, at least to the extent of our staff's knowledge. Other terms, such as the "Indians," "our men," "Orange and Blue," and the "homecomers" were sometimes applied to the team, none in a consistent fashion, except for "Illinois" and "Varsity"."

The term "Fighting Illini" was first used in 1921 and the best evidence "suggests that it was developed and then used extensively as part of the fundraising campaign preceding the construction of Memorial Stadium." A segment from a 1925 article from the Alumni News reads,

"How the stadium idea, when it started some years ago, did possess the imagination of us all! It was a slow day indeed whose setting sun did not mark another period of slogans. Everybody composed them, especially during a prize contest that was held. Out of this came the battle cry of the stadium campaign: "Build that stadium for fighting Illini."

Interestingly, the archives article adds that the stadium "was built to honor alumni, staff, and students who died during World War I, the term "Fighting Illini" was seemingly being linked to military service."

Until the 1920s when the term "Fighting Illini" was "adopted by general consensus as an unofficial nickname for the University's athletic teams," the teams appeared to have no nickname. In fact, the lack of an official nickname may still be true today as the archive can find no records that the slogan was ever adopted as an official nickname.

So while Illinois could be a team without a name, they are certainly a team without a mascot. Here's a bit of history on that front. "Chief Illiniwek" made his initial appearance as a mascot in 1926 and whether "Fighting Illini" initially referred to Native Americans is, according to the Illinois Library "open to interpretation."

Nevertheless, in the mid-1970s controversy began to swirl around using Native American symbols, regalia, and nicknames in reference to athletic teams. As late as 1995, the Illinois General Assembly passed a resolution in support of Chief Illiniwek. After a 2006 NCAA resolution that "certain Native American mascots and symbols were hostile and abusive to minorities" the Illinois Board of Regents voted to retire the Chief who then had his last dance on February 16, 2007.

Two separate student referenda - one in 2005 and another in 2008 - bound the Illinois Student Senate to support Chief Illiniwek as a symbol of the University. Another referendum that was dubbed "Chief or Nothing" was held in March 2013 and more than 12,000 students voted. According to The Daily Illini,

"It has been six years since the University has had an official mascot and as far as students are concerned, it looks to remain that way.

The results of a March student referendum that looked to gauge student opinion about a new mascot for the University show that the most popular new mascot is "no change," which received 15 percent of the vote, followed by "other," which received 12 percent of the vote and was another popular answer due to support for Chief Illiniwek. The most popular mascot of the 48 choices was "Eagle," which was an eagle with its wings spread, similar to the headdress of Chief Illiniwek. The eagle logo garnered 9 percent of the vote."

So, welcome to College Park, the team with no mascot and possibly, no official name.

Fighting Illini on the court - 2014-15

Let's start with an odd connection between the men's and women's teams as they prepare(d) to face Maryland. Those of you who follow the men's team may recall that in the week leading up to Maryland's trip to Illinois, the Illini lost their leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, to an injury. Well, in their recent win at Iowa, the Illinois women's team lost its leading scorer, Ivory Crawford, to a knee injury. The key differences are that the women's team is coming to Maryland and that they have played two games (both losses) without Crawford.

Illinois enters the game 11-6 on the season and 2-3 in Big Ten play. They are currently 71st in RPI. The Terps and Illini have one common non-conference opponent - South Florida. USF defeated Illinois 67-61 on a neutral court in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament in St. Thomas while the Terrapins beat the Bulls by 18 in a mid-November game played in College Park. Illinois also has two high quality wins over Kentucky and Iowa. But both of those came with Crawford in the lineup.

Not surprisingly, the Illini, for whom scoring had been difficult with Crawford on the floor have struggled mightily to score without her. They scored only 53 points against Nebraska and 56 at Michigan State. However, because of their defense, Illinois managed to keep both games competitive.

The Illini give up 60.9 points per game - fifth best in the Big Ten - but they lead the conference in turnovers forced (21.3/game) and are tied for second in defensive efficiency conceding only 0.79 points per possession. They are so effective in forcing turnovers that 28 percent of the opposition's possessions end in turnover. This is a full two percent better than second place Northwestern and three percent better than Maryland.

Illinois is also in the top five in the conference in field goal percentage defense. Opponents shoot just 37.2 percent overall and they guard the three point line better than anyone in the league allowing only a 26 percent success rate from behind the arc.

Players to watch

Chatrice White #32, freshman, center, 6'3". With Crawford out, the freshman White, is Illinois' leading scorer, In fact, at 15.2 points per game she is the only active player to average greater than 10 points per game. White accounts for nearly 22 percent of the Illini's offensive output. Though listed as a center, she will step away from the basket and takes about one of every 10 three pointers for Illinois connecting on over 42 percent of those attempts. She also leads Illinois in rebounds at 7.2 per game.

Kyley Simmons, #15, redshirt junior, guard 5'7". Simmons averages just under 10 points per game and is the player Maryland will have to pay the most attention to on the perimeter. Simmons takes 27 percent of Illinois' shots from beyond the arc and 36 of her 47 made baskets have come from three point range. She also leads Illinois in assists, averaging nearly four per game while sporting an outstanding 1.9 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio.


As might be expected, the Terrapins and Illini have a limited history. Sunday's game will be the fourth all-time meeting between the schools with Maryland having swept the first three. The first two came under head coach Chris Weller, who will be honored Sunday when a banner with her name is added to the rafters. The only game between the schools during the tenure of coach Brenda Frese came in a 2008 Thanksgiving tournament in Cancun which the Terps won 79-52.

In conclusion

On paper, this looks like a game Maryland should win easily. It's a contest of strength versus strength. The Terps are the most efficient scoring team in Big Ten and are at or near the top in nearly every offensive category. However, Illinois' strength is defense and the Illini are another team that will test Maryland's improved ability to protect their possessions. The Terps, who averaged 17.1 turnovers per game in non-conference play, have reduced that number to 13.6 since starting play in the B1G. As noted above, Illinois is the best team in the league at forcing turnovers. It's important to note that while Illinois is an outstanding defensive team, they are not significantly better than Maryland even factoring in essentially two poor games (Purdue second half, Minnesota, and Rutgers first half) by the Terps. A return to the form they showed in the second half of Thursday's win will go a long way to maintaining Maryland's unblemished conference record.

An area Maryland should be able to assert real dominance is on the boards. Despite starting two 6'3" players on their front line, the Illini pull down fewer rebounds on average than any squad in the Big Ten and their negative 4.7 rebounding margin is only better than Ohio State. In comparison, Maryland enters the game with a plus 11.9 margin for the season.

The Terps are looking to solidify their grasp on the top spot in the conference and wrap up the first third of the conference season a perfect 6-0. The GAMER prediction system predicts a comfortable 87-61 Maryland win and places the chances of a Terrapins triumph at 87.2 percent.